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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Bush Administration would be wrong to believe that it can secure a permanent Israeli-Palestinian peace accord in the final year or so it has left in office, Martin Indyk, ambassador to Israel under President Clinton, warned on Thursday.
"I hope that's not their plan," said Indyk, who was deeply involved in the failed push for a permanent deal at Camp David in 2000. "If so, they'll drive it to a bad end. It's bad to set artificial deadlines.
"I was burned by that," Indyk told The Jerusalem Post, referring to the effort to forge a deal between prime minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat in the final months of the Clinton Administration. "To try to push to a [full] agreement in the final year of the administration is precisely what George Bush criticized Clinton for doing. It would be ironic indeed if Bush wound up doing it himself."
Indyk said he had no doubt that the current flurry of diplomatic activity was indeed designed to galvanize a resumption of substantive talks on final status issues, and he said it would be a "signal achievement" for the administration if this proved attainable. But he hoped there was "a degree of realism" about what was possible and in what time-frame.
He also charged that the Administration was making a critical mistake in focusing its efforts so predominantly on the diplomatic track without devoting the necessary attention to the need for an international force to build a security partnership with the Palestinians in the West Bank.
"You must have third party involvement," he said, because "the Palestinians can't build up their security capabilities and reform Fatah in reasonable time. That's the gap. If it's not filled, the whole structure will collapse like a house of cards."
As things stood, the Palestinians "don't have the institutions or the capabilities to be responsible partners" to a final status deal, he said. And no diplomatic process could possibly succeed, he said, unless the Palestinians were able to exercise "reliable control" over any territory from which Israel would withdraw as part of an accord.
What was needed, he said, was an international force, of perhaps 10,000 men, to carry out training of the Palestinians and joint operations in the West Bank. This, in turn, could gradually restore Israeli confidence in the viability of a partnership with the Palestinians.
The bottom line, said Indyk, who is now the director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, was that there could be no viable diplomatic achievement unless there was "support of a tangible consensus of the Israeli people. And they won't give that support unless they see a responsible partner on the Palestinian side.... Since Israel holds all the cards, you must convince the people of Israel. They won't be convinced to give up the West Bank and the Arab parts of east Jerusalem, and that's what we're talking about here, unless they feel there is a responsible, capable [Palestinian] partner," Indyk said.
(The full interview with Indyk will appear in the Post next week.)